If no one can prove that God exists, then how can God can be the ultimate authority? When the occurrences that could be called “Divine Retribution” fall equally on the “evil” and the “innocent” it appears that the only authority of “God” is the fatwa, the inquisition and the burning at the stake. “Acts of God” rain indiscriminately on humans. Theologians cherry pick and memorialize the cases supporting their view and suppress the instances where the innocent are struck by brimstone or the nasty guy gets ahead.

The font of morality comes from a successful human species. What works for a society is good. What is bad for human society is in the long run, rooted out of both the genome and the society. A fixed (over tens of generations) morality is no more than a fable. The rules of acceptable behavior (morals) of the middle ages are wildly different from modern western society. Huckleberry Finn thought he would go to hell because he helped the slave Jim escape. Infanticide was the solution to deformity 100 years ago in Oceania. Jesus was crucified because he because he claimed to be the Son of God. It is no longer permissible for Catholic priests to molest children.

So much for rules: Perhaps more important, altruism is a trait which has been selected by natural selection. It does not mean that the trait is universal, but that it is prevalent in the population. Its value comes from societial benefit. Societies will usually reward altruism and shun sociopathy in its members. I know that there are scientists who argue against group selection, but there is enough evidence for it that it should be permitted as a working hypothesis

Religion and the supernatural have recorded some rules of behavior (morality) which are clearly evil. (Slavery, sexual slavery, ethnic cleansing, intent to commit filicide (human sacrifice of a son), killing of war prisoners – just in the Bible – we can find lots more in the Quran and Talmud, and that is just the Abrahamic religions).

Religion has instigated many of the worst evils on the world (9-11, the Cathars, Kosovo, Sikh pogroms, the Thirty Years War, the Crusades, Witch burning, the Inquisition, the Lebanese Civil War, the Irish Troubles etc.) all because “God told them to do it!” The fact that the Nazis and the KKK are Christian organizations has been repressed.

When a society shows children the acceptable rules of behavior for its members – that is where morals come from. Some old books serve only as props and justifications for parents and leaders who are unwilling to take the effort to search out what is important for themselves. Hewing to a tradition is easier than rational analysis. Tradition brings a stability that damps out sudden changes which may have unintended consequences. Unfortunately, religion becomes ossified – particularly when it tries to apply tribal Bronze Age morals to global Information Age life.

Religion has no guidance for morals beyond the tribe, no guidance for technologies that can wipe humankind off the globe and change the nature of what it is to be human, such as radically extended lifespan, cloning, cyborgs, gene modification, artificial life, enhanced consciousness, human actions which effect the entire world, multinational corporations, monoculture food, global climate change, WMD.

Just as important, Religion is especially blind on how to interact morally with people and sentient animals who are very different from ourselves. When the extent of a person’s actions never extended beyond ten kilometers Bronze age guidelines were OK. When the president can blow North Korea or Iran off the face of the earth with a pushbutton, we need a revision of morality – one that can be shared among all peoples. One that does not murder abortioners, stone rape victims, exterminate whales, hang homosexuals, blow up Buddhas or burn witches.


  •  Wars are much more expensive than expected (Rumsfield Principle)
  • Wars will take much longer than expected (McClellan Principle)
  • If you remove a despot, there WILL be a civil war
  • Cleaning the mess will take much longer, and cost much more than the war.
  • After you leave, there will be many people who hate you.
  • The folks you put in power will be corrupt and/or inept.
  • The war will empower and enrich profiteers
  • When a despot is replaced with democracy, people you don’t like will attain power.
  • Things will not go as planned.
  • Don’t make war in Afghanistan, it will be trouble.

Thomas Jefferson prepared his own “New Testament” bible by pasting the words and story of Jesus Christ of Nazareth by razor cutting from a King James Bible and his personal translations from Greek.  The “Jefferson Bible” is  a chronological amalgam of the four New Testament  books.  His first attempt to extract the philosophy in a less successful work The Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth which he edited in 1804.  It appears that this first forty three page pasted book does not survive.

In the winter of 1816-1817 he produced a handsome morocco-bound volume, labeled on the back, `Morals of Jesus,’ which contained parallel texts in four languages.  This book is held by the National Museum, and 9000 copies were produced for the Congress.  Jefferson kept the book a secret from the public during his lifetime, but reportedly read from it each night before retiring.

Jefferson said his task was:

“… extracting the pure principles which he taught, we should have to strip off the artificial vestments in which they have been muffled by priests, who have travestied them into various forms, as instruments of riches and power to themselves. We must dismiss the Platonists and Plotinists, the Stagyrites and Gamalielites, the Eclectics, the Gnostics and Scholastics, their essences and emanations, their logos and demiurges, aeons and daemons, male and female, with a long train of … or, shall I say at once, of nonsense.”

The original bound manuscript is held by the US National Museum in Washington,   The actual manuscript has been scanned and can be viewed online, with the Greek and Roman next to the English King James excerpt.  Its age and old fashoned printing make this great as a reference, but hard to use to just read.

TED.com has the most illuminating presentation showing scientifically accurate animations of biological molecular engines.  You can watch now!

VATICAN CITY, Holy Thursday – Watching the pilgrims arrive for Holy Week, queuing through the metal detectors at the ends of the arms of St. Peter’s Square, I feel like a teenager watching the little kids line up for Santa Claus. It is remarkable how we are willing to cast aside the sweet myth of Santa, for the reality that it is the sure love of our parents that provide gifts and good cheer, yet the myth of religion clings with most of us until death.

So many are unable to cast off the myth of religion – perhaps the stakes are too high, or unlike the Santa myth, our parents believed their entire lives. We, as a race, need to recognize that the bounty that we enjoy springs not from some supernatural entity, but from our spaceship Earth. We are simply one organic part of it. The value of our lives depends on how good a tenant we are: Our contribution to human society, to good stewardship of Earth, and to posterity are all measures of that tenancy.

Religion serves to unify a group. The godhead set down rules for life, and everyone in the group recognizes that following or breaking them has consequences – multiplied by the concept of an eternal afterlife. The problem with this is that religion causes an us / them organization of thought. For example, the Ten Commandments were meant as rules for behavior between the tribes of Israel, and had no force with respect to other tribes. It was fine to rape or plunder the Philistines.

Religion ossifies rules. Leviticus held the best rules known at the time for Bronze Age Man. Don’t eat cloven hoofed animals, you will get trichinosis; you are unclean until dark if you handle roadkill, since you have no “sanitizing wipes”; two men should not lay with one woman, we won’t know the father; etc. These made excellent sense at the time and place. The problem is that there is no mechanism for editing to add new guides and remove irrelevant ones or ones whose purpose is no longer valid, such as “go forth and multiply” when we have already done that and the Earth’s population is burgeoning.

Even when religion comes from a single source, such as the Abrahamic faiths, there arouse differences that not only separate peoples, but cause great strife and bloodshed. Muslim, Judaism and Christianity all share the same roots, but have seen terrible bloodshed in the name of God. The Crusades, the Inquisition, the Caliphate conquests, the Ottoman wars, the Papal wars all were driven by religion. Recent conflicts such as that between Israel and the Palestinians, the Irish troubles, and Serbia vs Bosnia and Herzegovnia, and Kosovo are all driven by religion as well. Even within a single faith Shiite vs Sunni, Catholicism vs Protestantism the power struggles divide peoples.

With a death in my family only last night, I see how the myth of “life after death” holds a powerful claim on our beliefs. Not only is it packages of toys we are talking about, but the continuation of “MEness” contained in our sentience after death is at stake. This is a powerful question.

Don’t we surrender sentience daily in sleep? How is sentience to return after death if it has been lost in the dementia of Alzheimer’s? Do we not leave bits of ourselves in everything we do, particularly everything we teach? Are not my thoughts borrowed by everyone who reads these words? Is not the sum of a life the totality of what that person has done, and its effect on the world and humanity? Perhaps this is the true meaning of the final judgement, and not some standing before a god, but simply a clear understanding of that tally.

No promise of dancing with angels before god holds sway with me. It is inconceivable to me that so many people hold this myth firmly based only on wishful thinking and some verses in a book sustaining it. I suppose the same could be said about Ptolomy’s celestial spheres, yet people believed them for years after Copernicus and Gallileo showed them to be false.

I for one, am content with the idea that my sentience, that I hold most preciously, will most likely fade at my death or before. I measure its purpose by the good I do, and by my failures, using as a measure the best information on the “right course” I can find. This, I believe is a successful and fulfilling life plan, sans any need for supernatural interference. I will go to my final sleep knowing the good and bad I have accomplished will weigh the scales on how much of that life was used well and how much wasted. Those scales are mine, not of some supernatural being, and free of obsession will show the truth.

Hollywood Flakes

Hollywood Flakes

Hollywood Flakes has decoded the Jabberwocky. I am not sure just how accurate her decryption engine performs. I think that I have a more sinister vision of the Jabberwock – somewhere between Darth Vader and a “fast zombie”.

Blaise Pascal

Blaise Pascal

The French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal wrote in his Pensées, a collection of notes made towards the end of his life, that when making a life wager on the existence of God, belief in God is the best bet.  This is known as Pascal’s Wager.  Using the first formally structured decision theory and probability theory Pascal started from the proposition that reason and experiment cannot establish the existence or non-existence of God.  He developed the proposal that no matter the state of existence of God, it was a better bet to behave as though there was one.  In his other writings, Pascal expressed his belief that in comparison to other options, like stoicism, paganism, Islam, and Judaism,  the Christian faith is the only one that could be correct.  A corollary of Pascal’s thesis is “If it is impossible to know whether God exists, it follows that it is also impossible to know (in the case that God does exist) God’s expectations of us.” This corollary makes Pascal’s belief in the correctness of Christianity unsupported by his own logic.

Pascal’s wager has been attacked and defended by philosophers over the ages,  Voltare – treatied it as a proof, as opposed to a pragmatic analysis.  Denis Diderot, and J. L. Mackie point out that the same argument could be said about any religion, many of which each claim to be the only true path to salvation.  Richard Dawkins further challenges the scope of outcomes by proposing the possibility of a God who rewards honest search for truth, and punishes blind faith.  You see, taking these refinements into consideration, the decision matrix no longer supports Pascal’s clear odds.

My contribution to this discussion is to show that there is a third choice.  When the decision matrix is evaluated with my “third way”, it can be seen that this is the only sure bet.

Pascal’s original wager can be shown in a formal presentation as:

God exists (G) God does not exist (~G)
Living as if God exists (B) +∞ (heaven) −N (Pointless actions during life)
Living as if God does not exist (~B) ?? not specified
perhaps N (limbo/purgatory/spiritual death)
or −∞ (hell)
+N (none)


Remnant of SR 1572 "Tycho Brahe's Supernova"

Remnant of SR 1572

Is time immutable, or is it subjective?  Philosophers have debated the nature of time, and whether it is intrinsically ordered and has tense.  I have devised a mind experiment to show that time depends not only on the observer, but the observer’s position, that before, after and simultaneous are subjective.

Visualize two observers on opposite sides of a town, one north, one south.   Both have clocks that were synchronized, and the observers moved slowly apart, so that relativistic effects on their clocks is insignificant, and flash detectors connected to the clocks to properly record the time of lightning flashes.

A storm comes up, and a lightning stroke hits in the middle of the town.  The two observer’s flash detectors record the time of the flash, and agree on the time.  The light from the flash travels to the flash detectors at the speed of light, producing a time delay of approximately 3.33 microseconds per kilometer.  Lets say the the observers are 6 km apart so the delay from the stroke until the observers detect it is 10 microseconds, and both of them agree on the time of the lightning stroke.

Lets now assume that there are two lightning strokes, one near the north observer and the other near the south observer, and from the “god’s eye view” (lets say, from the point of view of an astronaut on the moon) the north stroke took place at Time = T and the south stroke took place at Time = T + 5 us.  “God” would say that the north stroke took place first.  The north observer would agree, but would claim that the south stroke took place 25 microseconds before the south stroke.

The south observer would disagree, the south stroke took place 15 microseconds BEFORE the north stroke!

The speed of light is the limit of the rate of information flow in the universe, and is the basis for the visualization of the “time cone” where occurances at a distance from an observer are experienced at a later time than it would have been experienced by a proximate observer (more…)

How many dollars does it take....?

How many dollars does it take....?

Continuing on the theme of my recent post on the difficulty of understanding scope of large numbers, a friend of mine published a compelling demonstration of the size of a Trillion Dollars:

  • With the latest round of Washington bailout money approaching a trillion dollars, here’s a way to visualize large sums of money assuming that the average dollar bill is 4 mils (0.004 inches) thick:
  • One million dollars is one million $1 bills. Lay them edge-to-edge and they would cover 2.57 acres of land.
  • One billion dollars would be the same as above but with a 4-inch tall stacks of dollar bills replacing each individual dollar bill.
  • One trillion dollars: Use the same 2.57 acres of land, but the stacks of one dollar bills would now be 333-feet tall.

This illustration is courtesy of the CGC Communicator
published by Robert F. Gonsett for California Broadcasters



Nothing is as true as Ben Franklin’s quote. We will all die, and the government will have its pound of flesh. Estate taxes involve the confluence of both.

The founding fathers instituted this tax because it inhibits the formation of American aristocracies.  If large estates are attenuated by taxes when generations change, then each generation is responsible for replenishing the family fortune – the desired result.  If estate taxes destroy family businesses and leave children of the wealthy without the resources to continue their life plan, it is not conserving the American dream.

Conservatives despise the “Death Tax” because it extracts its toll from those seen to be the producers of value in society. In the USA only the 2% of the wealthiest pay estate taxes. This tax effects the conservative constituency heavily because it drains the wealth that can be transferred from generation to generation.  Of course, there is no assurance that the beneficiaries of an estate will have the skills, drive and effectiveness of the person who generated the wealth.

The way estate taxes are levied today is troublesome because they are calculated upon the value of the estate, not on the amount received by each beneficiary. It doesn’t matter whether there are fifteen heirs or only one. It doesn’t matter whether the estate is composed of cash and stocks or the family business or farm. (upon which the beneficiaries may depend for their jobs).

As people live longer, there generations overlap more.  Lets take the case where Granddad built a business, and left it to his son at age 80. The son, 25 years younger at 55 dies two years later, leaving the business to the grandson of 30.  The tax hit from two rounds of estate taxes within two years is unsustainable.  If the business was a farm, the farm would be lost, if it was a factory, family control would be lost, and the grandson would be reduced to a simple employee.  Even with optimal estate planning, a family business worth $50 Million would be lost.

I suggest an alternative scheme for generational taxes.  This plan would protects family businesses and farms, assures a generous “stake” for the children of wealthy, and seems more rational.

First, make the proceeds of an estate taxable to the recipient, with an exemption.  If an individual dies with an estate of ten million dollars and has to split it between eight children, each getting a 1/8th share it should not be taxed at the same rate as the same estate divided among two.  Under my system, each child in both cases would be assured of receiving a million dollars or so without taxation.  Under present rules the estate would be as heavily taxed in case of eight beneficiaries as when there are only two latter, meaning that each of the eight children would receive well less than a million dollars from the estate. Children and student recipients should have an increased exemption to cover costs of education.

Second, when the estate consists of productive assets (such as land, businesses, patents, copyrights, etc., but not publicly traded securities)  the taxes due on the net value of those assets would automatically be payable over time.  If the period were twenty years, for example, any well managed business can readily finance the tax under these terms.  If the property is sold, the outstanding amount becomes due.  If the person receiving the asset dies before the taxes are paid, the remaining taxes are forgiven.  The goal is that inheritance taxes on productive assets never compound when a generation is less than twenty years.

Reforming estate taxes into inheritance taxes makes a lot of sense.  Actuarially, it is easy to make this proposal “revenue neutral”.  It will resolve claims of unfairness that are the fodder for calls to abolish estate taxes entirely.  It will preserve family businesses and farms, yet still serve the founding father’s goal of averting American aristocracy.

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